Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Recipe for Clutter

Years and years ago, I had accumulated enough recipe clutter that I needed a way to organize it. I took an empty photo album, added tabs for the sections, and slid the recipes under the plastic. The tabs say things like “Main Dishes,” “Salads,” etc. The binder is big and red and full of favorites.

Well, not big enough. There are no more empty pages.

Now, when I tear a recipe out of a magazine, it has no clear destination. It sits on the counter for a few weeks, awaiting relocation. (Along with all the other clutter-orphans awaiting their own relocation.) Recipes are a recipe for clutter. Eventually, I stuff them into the front of the big red binder. Loose. Now the big red binder is REALLY big.

But it’s an unstable kind of big. Unstable as in when you pull it off the shelf, all the loose magazine clippings fall out all over the place.
Something had to be done.

So I sat down one day and culled the recipe pile. Created a big recycling pile and a little pile of sorted recipes. (In your Third Third, you know you are NEVER going to make something requiring more than five steps….) I put them in folders, but this time – after years of cooking – I had more specific categories: Pasta, Vegetables, Rice and Grains, Salmon. Eleven relatively thin folders. Plus one folder titled “Favorites,” those things that we dub: the repertoire.
And then it occurred to me: What if eggplant were in season and I wanted to cook with eggplant? What if the eggplant recipe was in Pasta or Rice? How could I find it? Pasta comes with other ingredients – how would I find them? And what about the wheat berry salad; does it go with Grains or Salad?

My friend Judith says the only solution is to make an index. She’s making an index. To me, an index is more than a to-do list item; it’s an insurmountable hurdle. It would need constant updating. Before I’d get to that, I’d make a list of all the movies I’ve seen so I’d stop coming home from the library with DVD repeats I don’t remember….

So I took the dilemma to my friend Sharon-of-the-400-cookbooks. Sharon has two file cabinet drawers of folders. Over time, just as I’d discovered, the categories refine themselves. Sharon’s “Meats” split off into “Beef Brisket” and “Lamb.” “Soups” spawned “Tomato Soups.” She has separate folders for “Avocados” and “Dates” and “Asian and Curries.” The problem Sharon is facing is that her favorites file is now two unwieldy files thick so she has to figure out some way of culling it.

Then I took the dilemma to my friend Marj. I’d remembered that Marj had a meticulous shelf full of white binders neatly labeled with her categories. Well, the four feet of binders is now eight inches of folders – a de-cluttering victory for Marj!

Marj sorts her folders by function, not by ingredients: “My big confusion is does beef stew go under Beef or under Stew or under Slow Cooker. Again, I look at the function – if I want to make a Crockpot meal, I only want to make a Crockpot meal, so everything Crockpot goes into one Slow Cooker folder, regardless of ingredients.”

All of us – good de-cluttering Third Thirders – are going through our cookbooks, identifying the keepers, copying them, and donating the cookbooks. In the meantime, Sharon puts flags on her cookbook pages. I’m going to start doing that because a good recipe tends to get lost in a closed cookbook, but Sharon even keeps a Dinner Party Journal citing the page numbers and cookbooks of what she prepared.
In my mother’s Third Third, when her last child left home; she ate out, brought home leftovers, and stopped cooking.

What’s your recipe for de-cluttering recipes?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How to Comment / How to Share

Now I have a discovery: I have finally figured out how to comment on my own blog! I mean, I know how to comment on it as me, but I wasn’t sure how you could comment as you. The problem is that list of “profiles” for you to choose amongst, and I have no idea what they are. I’m sure you don’t either. (Repeat: We are not tech dinosaurs!)

So here’s how to comment on the blog as you:
  • If you get the blog by email, click on the title in blue. That will take you to the blog website.
  • If you get to the blog through the home page (, at the end of each post where it gives the time I posted, it either says “2 comments” or “No comments” or however many comments. Click on that.
  • Now you’re all at the same place. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see “Post a Comment” and a box to type it in.
  • The confusing part is the “Comment as: [Select profile…]” Click on that and there are a bunch of choices, most of which I have no clue about.
  • The easiest, for many folks, is Google Account, which then asks you to sign in.
  • Then there’s Anonymous, but if you want to leave your name, what do you do?
  • This is my big discovery: Click on Name/URL, enter your name, and you don’t have to fill in a URL! It will still work! You don’t have to have any special account, secret handshake or password!
  • Then you just click “Publish”

Now, how to share a blog post that you really liked:

And I am incredibly excited because this represents a technological victory! I found a problem the tech developers hadn’t!

At the end of each post, after the last sentence, are a line of six little gray boxes. The first box lets you email the link to the post, and the other boxes give you the option of posting to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. But these are tiny, ugly, gray boxes, and I wanted bright, colorful, big boxes.
So I went to AddThis to get their boxes, but their boxes didn’t work on my blog. No matter how late I stayed up trying to make them work. Finally, Mike in Support, wrote “Thank you for bringing this to our attention.” I’d discovered a new problem! Mike made a video of how he fixed it. He fixed it by clicking here, there, everywhere, copying, pasting, whizzing around, erasing, fixing, zipping all over. I had to watch it twenty times with the pause button going constantly, but I finally got it! It works. At the very end of the post you will now find...

This should make it easy to share. Or: while on Facebook, go to the Our Third Thirds page, and share from there. Or on Pinterest, it’s Our Third Thirds Blog.


And now, I look forward to hearing from you … and all the people you share with!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Still My Mother's Daughter?

I am leaving next week for New York to visit my mother. This may be the first time I see her and she’s not sure who I am.

Once before, she went to breakfast and returned a few minutes later saying, “I didn’t realize you were my daughter!” Someone at breakfast must have asked how her daughter’s visit was going, and Mom realized that the person sleeping on her couch was me. But that was only momentary; all her Barbara-memories quickly lined up.

But recently, when I talk to her on the phone, I feel like she’s “being happy” or “being nice.” I can’t really describe it, but I don’t feel the ring of truth. It’s most obvious with the “add-ons” to her four kids – spouses, grandchild – but I feel it with me, too. I could be a waitress she’s friendly to.

In July, we moved her into the dementia unit of her assisted living. She is much, much happier there since they provide the near-constant company she craves. No more wandering in the night looking for desk clerks and nurses to sit next to. She says it’s the “just right” place for her, and my siblings and I would be greatly relieved except….

Except that she’s frequently in the hospital for “unwitnessed falls” on her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. (Thank goodness her bones are so dense they never break.) My poor sister – the only contact in the same time zone – now sends emails to the rest of us with “Again” or “One guess” in the subject line.

My mother has always been the hub of our family’s wheel. When we all left home, we’d telephone Mom and get the updates on everyone else. If someone had good news, she’d pass it on. If someone was sad, she’d tell us to check in and rally her. She was the Master Link.
Now she’s still the connecting force amongst us, but it’s about her, not with her. She’s still central, but not The Center. And what she is for us is not joy, it’s worry. Concern. My sister clenches when my mother’s area code comes up on Caller ID. I clench when I see subject lines like “Again” or “One guess.” Or even just “Mom.”

My mother used to wear Blue Grass toilet water from Elizabeth Arden. (That’s what they called it.) She’d splash it on after a shower and ask us to get it for her for Mother’s Day. The smell of Blue Grass is Mom. A reader, Michele, suggested that smells might be good for her Memory Box so I will try that.
I am bringing the videos I’d made of her telling stories from her childhood. The woman in those videos is so startlingly Mom – her vitality, her wit, her language. I wonder whether seeing her younger self will be a pleasant experience or a disturbing one.

My last few visits with my Mom have been crisis visits or task visits. I have either gotten her out of rehab, nursed her through the flu, or bought supplies, fixed the car, organized the paperwork. I have hired personal aides, met with facility administrators, taken her to the bank. In between, we have played bingo, watched movies, and looked through albums; but at the end of the visit, my mother says, “This was a great visit. We accomplished a lot.”

“Accomplished a lot” because my mother’s main concern is that her life get handled around her. I don’t think she’d say “This was a great visit. We laughed a lot” because she forgets a photo the instant we turn the page, forgets a story the second it’s finished being told. But somehow, the comfort of being taken care of lingers.

I’d scheduled this trip as a pleasure trip. A simple, have-happy-times-together trip. But now she’s back in the hospital after another fall. She’ll probably be discharged in a couple of days. Maybe fall again and go back in. There are no simple, have-happy-times-together trips.

I don’t know what will happen “in the flesh.” This is the first in-person visit for any of us since July. Will my mother snap to recognition that I am her daughter Barbara or maintain that superficial friendliness I sense on the phone, that cover for not really being sure of things? Will there be a “Mom” there … or some kindly older woman? Am I still my mother’s daughter?

I guess I’ll see.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Good Question

This is very short, but one of those quick jolts to the brain.

I was giving a workshop for teachers on resilience. We were looking at how we could reframe events, incidents, obstacles so we could better deal with them. One woman said she’d been frustrated over where she was in her career, but the change she wanted to make would mean going back to school for a degree.

“If I go back to school now, I won’t have my degree till I’m 55!”

Her husband: “How old will you be if you don’t go back to school?”
I’ll let that sink in.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sauerkraut Fever

Hooray, I made sauerkraut! Delicious sauerkraut! This is definitely a red letter, New Thing day.

Sauerkraut is fun, sauerkraut is easy, sauerkraut is magic! It’s a sauerkraut jubilee in our house.

When I was little, I had terrible stomach pains. After a few years of this, we went to the doctor. He asked about my regular diet. I’m not sure of the specifics, but his answer was something like, “human beings shouldn’t eat that much sauerkraut,” and I was forcibly removed from the sauerkraut jar.

When I moved into my first apartment, I remember being thrilled that I could bake a potato whenever I wanted in my own oven. And I could heat sauerkraut on the stove and eat it warm (which was a relatively new discovery of mine) whenever I wanted. I felt such ownership of my life!

But then somehow – I don’t know how it happened – sauerkraut fell off the radar. It only reemerged on the very infrequent hot dog.

Nevertheless, at the State Fair a few years ago, I took a class on making sauerkraut. It was so complicated and intimidating that sauerkraut-making never made it on my list.

And then my friend, Connie, said she makes it, it was easy, and why didn’t I come over? So first I picked up three cabbages at the Farmer’s Market, three heads of garlic, and some carrots.
We used Connie’s little hand-held slicer thing (which was a little scary since I have a difficult relationship with sharp objects), but the idea was to get skinny little shreds of cabbage and no blood in the mix. When I finished half a head of cabbage, I put it in a bowl and sprinkled it with a little salt. When the bowl was full, I squeezed it and mashed it and rubbed it against itself till water was oozing out everywhere. It was very hands-on; if I weren’t the one doing it – if I were only watching – I would beg to try.

Then I cut up my garlic and the carrots and threw them into the mush bowl.

I’d brought along some wide-neck jars, and I put my cabbage into them. Connie took one of the outer leaves of a cabbage, folded it around, and laid it over the cabbage. She mashed it down, creating a boundary so cabbage would be submerged under it with water on top. She screwed the top on, then backed it off a little.
And that was it! Each day, I just had to open the jar, mash down the big cabbage leaf so that more liquid would rise to the top, close it back up, and leave it.
It’s called wild fermentation, but it seems like magic! Way easier than my adventures with raspberry liqueur and even more fun than my spiralizer because at the end, I get sauerkraut! Handmade. By me! I feel like such an Earth Mother – hippie fantasies realized.

Today, I cased thrift stores for a crock so I can make bigger batches. Saturday, I’ll be at the Farmer’s Market buying up cabbage. Tonight, I’m a glutton, eating sauerkraut by the forkful.

I’d been focusing lately on trying to feel “abundance” in my Third Third. Who knew it would take the form of sauerkraut? It could be worse; it could be donuts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Living in a (Bad) Fantasy World

I used to have a nightmare about growing older. I called it The Bag Lady Fantasy. I imagined – feared – that I’d spend my old age destitute, homeless, roaming the streets.

Way back when – in the ’70s, I think – Ms. Magazine did a survey on women and money. At the end, we could write in additional comments. I wrote about my Bag Lady Fantasy/Fear. When Ms. published the results, they were astonished at how many women had volunteered their fears of being a bag lady. There was no prompt for that; everyone just added it to the survey.

I could manage this fear by being financially responsible, saving for the future, holding a job. Ultimately, the fear dissipated. Was it after I performed the part of Trudy the bag lady in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe? Trudy was so wise and witty and sort of bonkers, but I really, really liked her. I wouldn’t mind being a Trudy … but I’d make sure I managed my financial resources.
But then I saw Hello, My Name Is Doris last night, and a whole new fear grew up: the fear of being pathetic – or viewed as pathetic. As the theater roared with laughter around us, my friend Robin and I were sliding lower and lower in our seats, pained with the characterization of Doris. (Not mind you, with Sally Field; she was truly extraordinary and brave and wonderful.)

Why did Doris have to be a cat lady, a hoarder, a garishly dressed and out-of-date woman? Doris had a job; she had a computer in her home. She had a loving circle of friends. We didn’t see this competent, capable, involved woman. No, we saw her reduced to stalking a younger man and totally humiliating herself. We see her dismissed as a dinosaur on the job.
My mother worked till she was 72. When we talked to her about retirement, she said, “Right now, I’m the head of a department. The day I retire, I’ll be a little old lady.” No matter how professional, upright, or honorable we might be, the world is ready to look at us as little old ladies. As Dorises.

For goodness sakes, I have orange hair! Am I practically a Doris already?

The AARP review is titled, “Sally Field Makes an Adorable ‘Doris.’” Adorable?!? Did they miss the portrayal of Doris as out-of-touch, eccentric, and shabby? Is “adorable” even the adjective we want for our Third Thirds? Doris was not adorable. Doris was every stereotype of an older woman: baffled by life, gullible, unfashionable, incompetent. Sorry, her big turnaround at the end doesn’t save the image of aging we’ve watched for the whole of the movie.

My Bag Lady Fantasy was a fantasy. It resided in my imagination. This new fantasy – the pathetic old lady – is not my imagination. It exists and lurks in the real world. People are ready to see older women that way. And to laugh at them. At me. At any of us.

The Pathetic Old Lady Fantasy is the stuff of nightmares.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Old Things Beyond Repair

When I buy something, I expect it to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the something doesn’t necessarily cooperate. Now, in my Third Third, the somethings are falling apart. They’re dropping like flies.

The stereo, for example.

I was very proud of this purchase in 1986. It included a tuner, an amplifier, a double cassette deck, and a turntable. Oh, and big speakers. Yes, even I know it sounds obsolete, but it worked. Later on, I got a CD/DVD player and everything worked together. I could even pipe my TV sound through the speakers.

A couple of years ago, the power button on the amplifier stopped sticking. It wouldn’t stay pressed in so I got a stick and propped it between the button and the carpet. It worked, and guests never asked me why we had a stick sticking out of our stereo. Maybe everyone’s machines start getting finicky like that.
As I’m de-cluttering all my obsolete media (audio cassettes, VHS tapes, etc.), I have to be able to listen to them. So my obsolete stereo came in handy. Even with its required stick.

Well, then, of course we got the new carpeting, and I was reluctant to risk gouging a hole with the propped stick. But that proved a moot point because the whole amplifier/tuner – they’re attached – stopped working. Period.

I checked online with the handy Marantz Service Center locator. I plugged in Alaska: “No Service Centers Found.” So then I started phoning around. Guess what? Nobody fixes stereos anymore. They fix car stereos and phone gizmos, but not stereos. Or maybe just not old stereos.

Granted, I don’t darn socks either. My mother used to, but I decided I’d rather buy new socks. So I guess I can’t complain (except that socks are way cheaper than a whole stereo system!).
So I’ve had to start some preliminary research to Buy a New Thing. Can you see the dominoes starting to fall? The amplifier is connected to the CD/DVD player and the TV, even the obsolete VCR. Wanna bet the cables that go between them won’t work with a New Thing because millennial-generation cables and plugs don’t like Boomer-generation components?

But it turns out they don’t sell amplifiers by themselves. New stereos have everything – CD player, speaker – in the space of my broken tuner/amplifier. Things are tinier now.

But if I get new, tiny speakers, where do I put the ivy that sits on top and is connected to the walls and ceiling from the exact height of the top of the speaker? This is the same ivy I had to hold at the right elevation while the carpet guys laid carpet underneath the speaker. Do I keep a silent speaker like some vestigial organ in my living room?
No, now my research has to include finding a 32½-inch stand for the ivy pot. Maybe the stand can include a shelf for the new all-in-one stereo. I know I don’t need a turntable anymore. My friend Judith discovered they no longer make needles to play on hers.

Okay, put “donate albums” on my to-do list, too.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Choosing Oomph

Sometimes it’s a push to find New Things in your life. It’s Friday and you didn’t sleep well and it’s been a long week; how about we just veg out? Or you got yourself out, and it’s First Friday and the block party on D Street is fun and sunny so why would you leave to hear a lecture? A music lecture no less. Indoors.

But you’ve already “made plans” and so you’re stuck. You have to go hear John Luther Adams at the Anchorage Museum, and you know he’s really, really highly regarded, but still. It’s a lecture. Maybe it will be short. You plod on over to the Museum.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of oomph to keep yourself growing and exploring in your Third Third, but the plus side is you make incredible discoveries. John Luther Adams is my discovery of the week. Maybe of the month. (Hmmm, there was QuickSplit….)

It’s not my usual music. It’s not the Rolling Stones; there’s no regular beat. Not even lyrics. But the electrifying thing is his reasons, the why of his music and how that’s changed the how. I think – just like I discovered with the Defiant Requiem – that I appreciate the art, the artist, and their why more than music itself. I like what music can do.

Adams’ music is inspired by the landscape of Alaska; I knew that before. But I didn’t know he’d realized that while his music began outdoors, it was almost always heard indoors. So now, he was taking his music outside, having it performed in new and different ways outdoors. That means a different experience for the listener.
Adams wants the listener to be a partner in the creation of the musical experience so he invites “the listener to find their way into the music. … Few things make me happier than when a listener hears something, experiences something, discovers something in the music that the composer didn’t know was there. It’s only through the presence, awareness, and creative engagement of the listener that the music is complete.”

How many communication workshops have I given where I emphasize that the ideal of communication – of interaction, period – is dialog, the active participation of both parties, where both people co-create the conversation? Where both people actively listen. And it can happen with music?

Adams showed video of his outdoor performances. For Inuksuit, 99 percussionists played while dispersed throughout Morningside Park in New York City. There was no conductor, but each musician had a score and followed the cues of music they could hear. The audience just sort of wandered around, some actively listening, some doing what you do outside in parks. “You may choose to root yourself in one specific location and let the music move all around you or you may choose to wander freely throughout the performance, following your own ears, actively shaping your own experience, creating your own mix of the music.”
And because it’s happening outside, there are sounds from the world, too. For Adams, “every point … is a potential point of interest, a call to listen.”

Does this sound as startling, as revolutionary, to you as it did to me? When afterwards, in conversation, Adams described how he creates his music from natural harmonic series because the piano keyboard isn’t a requirement in nature, that clinched it. I’d thought composers had to sit down in front of pianos and work out their pieces. I’d really thought that. Like it was a rule.

This was just mind-blowing.

Adams gave this same lecture – with the same video – at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity so you can see it on YouTube. Near the end, the video shows a performance of Sila: The Breath of the World outdoors at Lincoln Center. For me, that was the knock-your-socks-off part.
Okay, even sock-less, I may not become a music person. I’m probably not going to start going to concerts – my stereo broke and I can’t figure out how to get it fixed – I don’t have an iPod or other listening doodad – but I now have “music awe.”

Lesson for my Third Third: it takes oomph to find awe.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Happy birthday, Our Third Thirds

It’s now been a year of blogging. 170 blog posts. Lots and lots of illustrations. Hooray! But time for a performance review: Is it doing what I’d hoped, both for me and you? Is it doing things I didn’t expect; did it surprise me? You?

The problem is that Internet writing can often feel like a black hole. I don’t see an audience, hear any applause. Instead, I get “likes” and comments and analytics telling me how many page views I got. I just came across a bit from Penelope/Meredith who said blogs tend to go away unless readers show their appreciation. “It takes … will to produce [a blog]. It takes hearing from, and feeling the support of, your audience to marshal that will.” How else will I know if my blog works for you?

She recommends:
•    Like posts on Facebook. “Even better, comment.” Facebook only sends out posts with “engagement.” So engage.
•    “Click through to the website. Those clicks matter.”
•    Recommend to a friend.
These things apply to me!

In the midst of my intermittent floundering over the last year, I discovered the required Big Three: Structure, Purpose, and a Sense of Community. I didn’t know the blog would help with all three. I didn’t know it would build connections as people touched base after reading a post. That is the biggest treat!
In the very first post, I elaborated on the ten reasons why I thought the Third Third was such a big deal and what I wanted to happen. This was #9: “How do I re-insert creativity into my life?”

So I’d say that one worked. I write and paint regularly. Sometimes it’s hard; I worry that I’ve run dry and have nothing to say. Most times, a thought is rummaging around in my brain and I am SO GLAD that I have a ready vehicle to try and work out its expression. I like figuring out how to say things both verbally and visually.

The biggest surprise: the positive reaction to the illustrations. I’d always thought of them as little doodles; the ones I drew when I was ten look the same. It has been really, really startling and delightful to get compliments on the art. (Now, spread the word!)

It helps to have a year’s worth of posts that remind me of what I have been doing/thinking/wondering about. Reading over old blogs gives me a nice burst of pleasant reminiscence … and makes me feel less like a lazy shit. So I’ll count that as an unanticipated benefit of the blog.

When readers tell me that posts have spoken to them, that sometimes I help them clarify their own explorations, questions, (anxieties, tribulations), I feel great relief! Your reader comments on the website or Facebook are often so eloquent and insightful they leave me gasping. None of us likes to feel alone. Please, add your voice to the mix.

A year later, and I still don’t have “a theme, an over-arching meaning to this part of my life.” My friend Sharon said, “But you’re a blogger,” as if that gave me definition, an identity. Does it? New in the mail today: blog business cards! At least I now have the trappings of an identity.

I could be very happy as a blogger in my Third Third. I could if I believed I was serving a valuable function. Sometimes I think, “Oh, no, what if I’m just a Florence Foster Jenkins who thinks she’s doing something right and well, and I’m really a dud?”

On the other hand, there’s that starfish story, about the guy throwing a stranded starfish into the ocean. He couldn’t save them all, he could barely save a fraction of them, but it made a difference to that one. So if ten people enjoy my blog, is that all it takes to make me a Blogger-with-a-capital-B?
I don’t think so, so I need your help. If a post resonates, please share it. Comment. Send people to the website While there, take a look through older posts, find one that spoke to you or made you laugh, and share it. (I feel like Peter Pan exhorting everyone to clap their hands to help Tinkerbell or the Velveteen Rabbit wanting to become real.) I’ll be curious to see which posts go out. You can share to your Facebook friends, to your real-life friends, to colleagues or family, even to “influencers.” Please do this widely and often, and you can give me suggestions as to where potential readers hang out and read.

I think I’d like to be a Blogger-with-a-capital-B.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hidden in Plain Sight

Today, I walked out of Loussac Library and a woman came up to me, all aglow and excited. “Come see my artwork,” she said. She led me off just to the side of the entrance. Eventually, it will be planted I’d guess, but right now, it’s all torn up with construction so there are just loose rocks thrown around. It’s a pile of dirt and rocks and pebbles.

She was a woman about my age, dressed nicely, but just so excited.

“I don’t see it,” I said.

“There,” she pointed.

“A few pebbles? Stacked up?” There were three on a rock. They weren’t even a cairn, nothing balanced on anything. Who was missing something here, me or her?

And then I saw it. The indentation in the big rock.
“Do I need to highlight it with marker?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “keep it natural.”

And that was it. A smile when and where I least expected it. But this is what I really loved: Somehow, that regular woman – could be a PTA mother, a secretary somewhere, or even a banker – had seen the potential of a smile in that rock. She’d followed her imagination through and was so excited about it she grabbed me – a stranger – to share it.

I don’t know if she lives her life like this, or if this was a fluke for her, too. But I’m glad I was in the right place at the right time.

How many hidden smiles do I usually miss?

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